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Report | 2024

Non-Pipeline Alternatives

RMI-National Grid Research: Emerging Opportunities in Planning for U.S. Gas System Decarbonization

By Abigail Lalakea Alter, Sherri Billimoria, Mike Henchen, Karsten Barde, Courtney Eichhorst, Justin Klingler

As the United States strives to meet ambitious climate targets and transition to cleaner energy sources, the changing role of natural gas utilities is paramount. With over 77 million customers receiving energy from gas utilities, a shift away from fossil fuels is challenging but essential. RMI and National Grid have partnered to research the role of non-pipeline alternatives (NPAs) and integrated energy planning in shaping this transition. This joint report shows how NPAs are an integral piece of modern energy planning and hold great promise, and overcoming key challenges to adoption will be critical to scaling up successfully.

Understanding NPAs and Integrated Energy Planning

NPAs aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by offering alternatives to traditional natural gas systems. These can include electrification of equipment or connection to lower-carbon infrastructure like thermal energy networks. Integrated energy planning (IEP) takes a holistic approach, considering interactions between gas, electric, and customer energy systems. This helps in assessing transition strategies, ensuring reliability, and achieving net-zero goals cost-effectively.

Key Insights and Case Studies

National Grid and RMI’s research focused on nine case studies from the United States and Europe that shed light on NPAs and IEP implementation. In the United States, utilities like PG&E, Con Edison, and National Grid are exploring NPAs, though challenges exist, such as regulatory hurdles and customer participation. In Europe, cities like Zurich are leading the way with clean heat planning and district heating initiatives. Insights from these studies emphasize the need for tailored solutions, regulatory support, and technological advancements to scale up NPAs effectively.

As the United States navigates toward a clean energy future, NPAs and IEP offer promising pathways. However, overcoming challenges like regulatory barriers and customer engagement is crucial. By fostering collaboration among utilities, regulators, and policymakers, and investing in innovative solutions, the nation can move closer to achieving net-zero emissions while ensuring affordability and reliability for all consumers.